Monday, January 29, 2007

Beatific desires

Recently I have been struggling with Patience. After all I have been through in life, I would think that I would have become an expert in patience by now, but alas I am not. Don't get me wrong, I can be very patient in the small matters in life. It is the "Big Picture" patience that I seem to lack of late. That is to say, I long for heaven, and I am getting a bit impatient to get there. Not that this impatience would drive me to suicide or something crazy like that. I'm not THAT impatient! But every day that passes I long to be in a relationship where I am fully known and loved and I can know and love fully in return; a deeply intimate relationship that can only be experienced through God. I love my friendships here, I have some of the best friends anyone can ever imagine. I also have a very loving family. I have great mentors, and bosses, and other examples of holiness in my life. All-in-all I am a very blessed man. But of all these great and wonderful people, none of them *really* know me. Many of them know a lot *about* me, and several of them know me fairly well (my parents and my best friends,) but none of them know me like the Lord knows me. He knows me better than I know myself! and He loves me more than I love myself (which is no small feat at times...) and this is what I long for.

This life seems like a passing dream of which I will some day wake up and find myself gazing into the face of my beloved, and experiencing a love so full that this life will seem like a dim old shadow of a memory where my love was weak and tainted. Oh, how I long for that day! May I have the patience to live out my life here faithfully.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roots of cultural problems

It always amazes me how the devil can take something good and twist it into something diabolical. Last night I was watching the NFL Conference Playoff games and a commercial came on that made me sick. I was actually in the kitchen, so I have no idea what was on the TV screen, but a little jingle was playing as the theme behind the commercial, conveying an unmistakable message, "I want it all, I want it all, I want it now..." This epitomizes our current American culture does it not? This commercial is one of the most honest commercials I have heard in a while. At least they are straight forward about their message, unlike many others. It is a common marketing strategy to tell people they are lacking something (happiness is a common target - because it is often true) and if you simply buy their product, you will finally fill this "lack" (they show images of people being happy and fulfilled). If people only knew the *truth* about this stuff.

Anyway, the topic at hand is selfishness. I recently heard a great talk by a very wise man, and he touched on this subject. What he said surprised me because I had never heard much history or info surrounding the topic, I usually hear, "Don't be selfish, be generous!" Well, that sheds very little light on the subject. This man said that, consciously, our self is the first thing we are truly aware of. This is not a bad thing, it is simply how we are made. (Descartes' "I think, therefore I am.")
Since this is part of how we are made, we never lose this self awareness throughout our life. However, as we grow and mature, we are expected to go beyond this "self-first" mentality and move towards the "other-first" mentality. In God's great design, getting married moves this process along quite speedily. And then having children moves it to a whole new level. So God built this into his design of man. He knows us very well.

Well, as I hinted at in the beginning of this blog, the enemy has taken this good design and twisted it into something bad. He has planted a few lies that have become like doctrine for the secular world. One of these doctrines is that "younger is better," or what I call the Doctrine of Youth. More qualified, late-teens to late-twenties are the "golden-years" to be sought after and preserved as long as possible and at almost any cost. So we have kids trying to act like teens and fifty year olds trying to dress and act like twenty year olds. But besides the vanity aspect of this doctrine, there is the idea that if people never reach maturity, they can be held in a spiritual stasis.
It is not a surprise to any parent that kids are all about "me, me, me!" (or "mine, mine, mine!")
Kids are very aware of their needs and wants (often indistinguishable to them), and in the childs eyes, it is the role of the parent to fulfill their needs. The enemy has unfortunately done very well with perpetuating this doctrine and it has resulted in a world where a lot of people are focused primarily on themselves, often at the expense of others. It has resulted in a world where people have failed to mature to the next level - even marriage has become self-focused! Just look at all the prenuptial agreements, and the high divorce rates. Even having children has become infected - both parents work and send their child to be raised by others (others who have no particular love for their child). Why? Because of the evil doctrine of youth: "Keep them young and naive. Keep them focused on themselves about all else." Ultimately, "Keep them away from God."

So we now have commercials with the chant of a child, "I want it all, I want it all, I want it now!" Sometimes I wonder if there is any hope at all.

There IS Hope! Chirst has promised us victory. But until that day, we must do our part to dispel these myths and help people grow in maturity and in a relationship with Christ. One day at a time, one person at a time. As Mother Therese said, "God calls us to be faithful, not successful."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Accountability & Obedience

This last weekend I was having a great conversation with some friends over coffee and the topic of obedience, which has been on my heart for a couple years or so, came into discussion. This is a topic which is not addressed enough (in my opinion) in our current culture and church.

While reflecting on the topic, I tried to come up with how someone outside the church and steeped in American culture would define obedience and its role in modern society. Here is my [skewed] reasoning from that perspective: Obedience is something that you have to give to your parents (as long as you live under their roof!) as well as something that has to be given to "the authorities" including your boss (or bosses). It is often given reluctantly because it treads on personal freedom. Often personal desires or goals come into conflict with the rules and laws set down by "the authorities," so we occasionally (or often in some cases) disregard the rules and laws in order to pursue our personal happiness. Sometimes we get caught breaking the rules/laws which can result in paying a fine, or in the case of work, getting a reprimand or perhaps a pink slip or worst case, being fired. All-in-all obedience is "flexible" and not required at all times, pretty much only when the authorities are physically present ("no cop, no stop"). Obedience is generally seen as "oppressive."

In this model, personal happiness trumps obedience to rules/laws. Sometimes they happen to coincide, most of the time they don't. It is based on the assumption they we know what is best for ourselves (we know better than some outside authority anyway). It is also based on the assumption that we have to look out for our own best interests/good because no one else will. This is the classic "fend for yourself", "last one standing wins" philosophy. This is the life philosophy of many people, secular and religious alike.

From what I understand of the Catholic Church, their take on obedience is quite different. First of all, it is based on the assumption that we are fallen sinful creatures who often do not know what is best for ourselves. It is also based on the assumption that true happiness is being in heaven in adoration and praise of God for eternity. The Church views this earthly life as a pilgrimage on our way to our heavenly homeland, and we are but sojourners in a strange land, who are often blind of the way we must walk. So the role of the Church is to help guide us pilgrims on the narrow path to eternal communion with our Creator.
Given the fact that our current fallen sinful state of being is due to The Original Disobedience of Adam and Eve, and the fact the our Restoration is due the The New Obedience of Christ and Mary, obedience is of paramount importance. The pride of man, thinking he can be god, leads to disobedience, whereas the utter humility of our creatureliness leads to obedience. The Catholic Church teaches that obedience is VERY important, not out of some vain, prideful, power hungry, obsessive way, but because obedience leads us to that true eternal happiness.

Based on all of this, I hope that I have made it clear that we should be striving for humility and obedience at all times, as Christ did ("Let Your will, not mine be done.") There is an associated topic of culpability, which has to do with who is responsible to God for decisions/rules/laws. In brief, we are all called to obedience of the rules/laws set before us (unless what is being asked of us goes against basic human dignity or against God Himself). If we disagree with a law, we should bring our disagreement to the lawmakers, all the while being obedient to the law in question.

When the end comes and we stand before God, we will be held accountable for our obedience, as well as our use of any authority he gave us while on Earth. Keep that in mind when making decisions that affect the people you are responsible for and when you are tempted to break church or civil rules/laws. Be respectful and obedient to authorities, and be a responsible authority yourself; then you will be just and upright before God when your day comes. Remember, he knows what is best for us, and we often don't.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My four kinds of prayer

The Catholic Church teaches that there are three forms of prayer: vocal, meditation, and contemplative. I joke with my friends by saying that I use four types of prayer, not just the three defined by the Church; I add “avoidance” prayer to the list. Avoidance prayer is the usage of any other kind of prayer in order to avoid listening to what God has to say to me. Really though, this is a joke and there is no “avoidance prayer.” I find that I can go through the motions of everything but contemplative prayer and not actually listen to God. I have learned that I can praise Him without feeling like it, I can read scriptures and other devotionals without really feeling anything, I can partake in liturgies and not really open my heart, and I can even spend time “listening” to God without actually listening to Him (because I listen only for those things that I want to hear.) All-in-all I am pretty good at this “avoidance prayer.”

It is not true that when we talk we cannot truly listen? So when I go before the Lord and talk, talk, talk, I often feel better (having gotten all that stuff of my chest,) and I am then tempted to end my prayer “feeling better” and thinking that the feeling comes from God. But how would you like it if you have a friend that said, “Let’s spend time together everyday,” and then when the time came they talked, talked, and talked, and then said, “Wow I feel much better now. You’re a great friend. Talk to you later! Bye!,” and then left. What kind of a relationship is that? A very one-sided relationship I would say. Well, I will admit that I am often that talkative friend of God’s. Not because I am wholly rude and inconsiderate, but because I know that if I let Him get a word in, He might ask me to change; to do something that I don’t want to do (because of my fallen, sinful tendencies.) So I avoid listening to Him by talking and then leaving.

I am far from a being perfect man, and thus I have much that needs to change. I often lack the desire to change and I pray to God that He might give me such a desire. However, until I “feel” like changing, I often use avoidance prayer to pretend I have an o.k. relationship with Him, when in fact I do not. If I am not truly listening to the Lord and open in my heart to change, then I am not truly in a good relationship with Him. I know this in my head, but hopefully someday it will take root deeper in my heart.

I can relate to Saint Augustine when he once prayed, “Lord change me, but not yet.” Oh how I feel like that so often! I pray that the Lord gives me the desire to want to change every aspect of my life that is not fully united to Him. I pray this prayer for everyone.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Silence of God

When I was a child I was fed with milk and honey, but now that I am an adult, I am fed with bread and wine.

It will be 10 years ago this Easter since I came into the Catholic Church; since I came home, since I began my journey. Three years prior to receiving communion as a Catholic I began my journey with the Lord, and the Lord met me where I was at and took the little I gave Him. I sometimes joke that if you give the Lord an inch, He will take a mile. Indeed this is what happened to me, but I would have it no other way. When the Lord takes more of me, it is I who win (and the Lord as well).

The first year of my "real" life began almost ten years ago, and in the beginning it was filled with milk and honey. I was full of joy and peace. I could not imagine life as ever being miserable or difficult because of the joy I experienced. The scriptures came alive to me and I saw the hand of God everywhere. The Lord spoke to my heart often, but not always perfectly clear. I knew the general direction that I should go and that Lord made it easy for me to go there. It was a special season in my life with the Lord.

After a year, the Lord brought me a bit closer to reality. I began to experience the suffering of the Lord. I began to see my sins and shortcomings a little clearer day by day. Slowly the Lord led me to a deeper relationship with Himself. Then things got really hard. After some time I experienced a desert of faith. My prayer life went dry, and my experience of the Lord was less often and less clear. I was often confused and lost. It was not until I was in studying and living in Rome at the death and funeral for Pope John Paul II that the desert phase passed in my spiritual life. For 8 years I walked in my faith desert, often off track and backwards, but always moving. It was a time of great growth; I learned more about myself in those eight years than I could have ever imagined. I learned some my strengths, fault lines, weaknesses, blessings, sorrows. But not all of them, only what the Lord knew I could handle - for I was still yet a child in my faith.

Praise be to Him, that season ended and I was brought to a new depth, but it was merely a respite - a little consolation from the lover of my soul. During this break the Lord gave me the gift of looking back and seeing His plan for my life up to that point. He showed me His glory, His greatness, His generosity, His love for me. I was, and still am, overwhelmed by all this. When it comes to love and mercy, the Lord knows no bounds. I am humbled and ashamed by my lack of response.

One of the greatest gifts of this time has been a wisdom and understanding of "why," the question that always seems to evade me. Why the silence? Here is what He so generously revealed to me... (refer to my previous post about not being able to properly communicate the fullness of this experience)

Children need milk and honey because they learn through cause and effect and trial and error. The Lord gave me rewards when I was younger in my faith in order to encourage me to move forward. He made it easy for me to choose the good, to choose Him. There were emotional and spiritual rewards for doing what was right. But when a child gets older he needs to learn to choose the good for the sake of the good, not because there are rewards. My time in the desert was not a curse or anything else of that sort. The Lord was calling me from adolescence to adulthood. He was giving me the opportunity to choose Him without rewards. I failed as many times as I succeeded, but after a time (8 years) the Lord knew it was time for the next phase. So I have had my rest and now I have entered a new stage of my relationship with Him. I am not quite an adult yet in the faith, but I have emerged from childhood to my young adult years. I hope soon that I can act as an adult in faith, but just like in this world, an adult is made by responsibility and perseverance. Adults know that sometimes you have to do things that you would not choose, things that do not come easy, things that require sacrifice and death to self, things that require giving and not receiving. Hard choices between multiple good things, hard choices between things we want and things we need.

If the Lord is silent, will I stop and cry our for help like a child, or will I choose to move toward the light without knowing where the next step will bring me? Do I need Him to hold my hand like a child who can easily get lost, or can I walk of my own accord trusting in the wisdom and knowledge the Lord has given me? I admit, I am blind when it comes to the path I must walk, but I can hear His voice in the stillness. He speaks in depths of my heart and I need to trust that I am not being led astray. Can I trust Him that much? He apparently thinks so, or I would not be where I am today. I should be, and I am, honored to know that the Lord believes in me enough to trust me with acting like an adult in my faith. The Lord is finally treating me like an adult! No more hand holding for me! Each day of my life is a grand adventure, full of surprises and opportunities. How will I respond?

To whom much has been given, much is expected. The Lord has given me much and I do not want to disappoint Him. I must press on day by day following the Voice that speaks in the silence.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Buon Anno tutti! (Happy New Year everyone!)

With the octave of Christmas finished and a new year beginning I hope that everyone has a year filled with God's blessings.

Today I was thinking (pondering) a few dichotomies in my life:

1) My desire to be with God in heaven RIGHT NOW vs. my desire to live here and have a family RIGHT NOW
2) My desire to be alone with God all the time vs. my desire to be with people all the time
3) My desire to choose for God vs. my desire to choose for myself
4) My desire to effectively communicate vs. the shortcoming of languages and my lack of ability to use it to effectively.

1) WHERE? I have recently been experiencing frustration with my life here on earth (Not that I'm thinking of doing anything bad about it). I am frustrated that I experience God in a very limited fashion. Granted, most of the limitations are of my own construction... but nonetheless, I am tired of seeing God "dimly as in a mirror." I have a HUGE desire in my heart to be united with God in such a way that transcends comprehension and explanation. Why do I have to wait? Why can't I be taken to my heavenly home and finally be united to my Creator and Savior? I look forward with eager longing to the day the Lord takes me by the hand and leads me home. I wish it were right now. My heart is yearning for the Lord, like a dry and weary land without water.
On the other hand, I strongly desire to have a family. This is such a strong desire that my heart aches to be married and have children. I want to love and serve, to hold and protect, to grow and become one with another. Why can't I be married right now? What do I have to wait? I have great affection stored up that yearns to be released. I need to love and be loved. God wishes to love me and be loved by me, but while I am here on earth, I believe that the Lord wishes to accomplish this through people, and more specifically through a spouse.
How can I want these two seemingly contradictory things? God's plan. All things will come in time; I must be patient and go where the Lord is leading me at this moment. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

2)WHO? When I am at Mass or adoration, I have this great desire to never leave. The Lord comes and touches me and I experience His great love. I want the moment to go on forever. I wish I could live in the sanctuary and adoration chapel in constant adoration and presence of the Lord. Oh how my heart longs...
But when I am with my friends, I want to remain with them in fellowship and communion loving and serving them as Christ in my life. I love my friends so much that I want to be with them always as companions on the journey. I cannot stand being alone, unless I am in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I get very lonely very quickly.
If I am in adoration always, I will never experience the joys of people. Yet I cannot get so caught up with people that I never take time alone with the Lord.

3)FOR? I desire to please the Lord, so I want to make choices that will bring me closer to Him. I want to be Christ to everyone I encounter; I want to serve Christ in all I meet. I want to be an example of gentleness and humility for others; I want to love them as Christ loves them. Yet I have other desires and wants. Human desires that I do not want to wait for the Lord to fulfill. I want to be happy (like everyone) so I make choices and do things that I think will bring me immediate happiness. They do bring immediate happiness - but it lasts only a few moments and than fades leaving me emptier than before. You would think I would learn; but no, I continue to choose for myself instead of the Lord. I sin each and every day (but hopefully less as time goes on!)

4)HOW? Oh, how I have experienced the shortcomings of human language. I can never totally express what is in my heart. The love, the longing, the desires, the lack of understanding, the frustrations, the joys, the sorrows. I long to share these things, yet I fall short in expressing the fullness of the reality of who I am. The world according to Christopher gets lost in translation from the heart to words. I find that sometimes non-verbal communication like a hug or a kiss communicates so much more than words can.

All in all my life is filled with these different things seemingly pulling me in different directions, but in the big picture they are all tools that the Lord uses to pull me closer to Himself. Oh how blessed am I to know and see these things. I ponder them in my heart like Mary pondered all that Jesus said and did.

God bless and happy new year,